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HARLINGEN, RGV – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley announced Friday that its School of Medicine has received a $15 million gift from The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation to create the new UTRGV Institute for Neurosciences.

“This is another historic day for UTRGV,” said Guy Bailey, founding president of UTRGV. “One of UTRGV’s priorities is to expand research opportunities that will impact the Valley and beyond. This institute will address an area of healthcare that has been underserved in our region for many years.”

Dr. Steven A. Lieberman

Dr. Steven A. Lieberman, interim dean of the School of Medicine, said the institute, which will be housed in Harlingen, will catalyze multidisciplinary research, integrated clinical services, educational programs, and community outreach and engagement with hospital partners in the areas of mind/brain health, behavior and prevention.

In an in-depth interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lieberman said gift from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation will be matched in significance with university funds for state-of-the-art equipment and personnel.

“It is a great day for the School of Medicine, it is very exciting. It is another opportunity for the School of Medicine to bring healthcare to the Valley that the population down here currently can’t get. There is a shortage of neurologists and neurology sub-specialists. Now, we are going to have the opportunity to attract some really talented faculty members to provide care, to build education programs so that we train more neurologists, to develop the research programs, to help innovate neurology care,” Lieberman said.

“And, it is broader than just neurology. It gets into other specialties, such as psychiatry, and integrating behavioral health into primary care. And the community outreach part is really critical as well. So, we are very, very, excited about what this means.”

Lieberman said the Valley is “so lucky to have a wonderfully generous foundation like the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation that we share the vision with.” He said the foundation has been very generous with its funds. “And, especially to have a partnership with the Harlingen community. They have been supporting medical education here for two decades and have worked long and hard. This is just another great example of what that positive partnership and shared values can create.”

Lieberman said the Institute of Neurosciences will focus on the following core activities:

·       Education – Develop capacity for integrated ambulatory/outpatient care, integrate primary care and behavioral health in internal medicine, develop medical student clerkships in psychiatry and neurology and develop research and clinical fellowships in subspecialties.

·       Multidisciplinary – Develop programs in clinical excellence and personalized medicine, including multidisciplinary research and service lines for specific populations.

·       Health and prevention programs – Including early detection/early intervention of psychotic disorders, community education and coaching on selected neurologic/behavioral disorders, and implementation of behavioral health in internal medicine and other primary care clinics.

Asked to define neurology for the layman, Lieberman said:

“Neurosciences is quite broad. It can be, on the science side, anything from studying how cells in the brain work to, bigger picture, how different parts of the brain work and how brain-function relates to what people do, to their behavior. On the clinical side, neurology is things like seizure disorders, memory disorders, like Alzheimer’s, other sorts of neurologic problems, but also more broad than that, to include psychiatry, and integrating psychiatry and behavioral issues into people’s general health. So, for instance, many people are familiar with diabetes and the need to modify behavior in terms of exercise and what they are eating and what they are doing. Those are behavioral issues and challenges and so by bringing in state of the art approaches to helping people adhere to those recommendations, we can help improve their health. So, even though diabetes is not a neurologic condition, per se, behavioral health is a big part of the management of it. And the same applies to many, many diseases.”

The announcement of the $15 million gift from Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation and the plan to create an Institute of Neurosciences in Harlingen was made by UTRGV President Guy Bailey at the Clinical Education Building (formerly known as the Regional Academic Health Center) on the School of Medicine’s Harlingen Campus on Friday morning.

Later that day, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell spoke about the development in his State of the City address at Casa de Amistad.

“Dr. Bailey announced that the gift will be matched in significance with university funds for state of the art equipment and personnel. He said this is another historic day for UTRGV, one which will impact the Valley and beyond,” Boswell explained.

“The institute will focus on education, integrating primary care, behavioral health, and internal medicine, developing medical student clerkships in psychiatry and neurology and will develop research and clinical fellowships in sub-specialties. It will include multidisciplinary research with service lines for specific populations and it will include health and prevention programs for psychotic disorders and implement behavioral health and internal medicine. Now, if you didn’t understand any of that, don’t worry, just realize it’s a BIG DEAL.”

Boswell said the City of Harlingen “remains committed” to the “important partnership” it has with UTRGV and the School of Medicine.

“Dr. Bailey said this morning that the gift from Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation was truly transformational, and that he envisioned the institute to be of international prominence,” Boswell said.

“I am overwhelmed by the vision of UTRGV leadership and that of the staff and the board of Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. The Institute for Neurosciences will change the landscape for how we diagnose and treat mind and brain disorders. We congratulate all of those who have brought this dream to the beginning of reality.”

Raudel Garza, executive director of Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, focused on the economic impact the institute will have.

“This gift from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation to UTRGV is huge for the Valley, but especially for Harlingen. This will mean millions in investment and will lead to the creation of very high-skilled, high-paying jobs,” Garza said.

“Sometimes people forget that the medical school is in Harlingen as much as it is anywhere else. We have med students for years three and four and residency programs as well. We have a SMART hospital, which doesn’t exist anywhere else in South Texas. We have much more than people realize. Please share the good news.”

Randall Baker, executive director for Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, explained why his board of directors had made the investment.

“At the Legacy Foundation, we believe that mental health is essential to personal well-being and plays a major role in one’s ability to maintain good physical health. We are thrilled to partner with UTRGV and the School of Medicine on this significant project, and we strongly believe that the Valley community will greatly benefit from it,” Baker said.

Kelly Cronin, UTRGV’s vice president of institutional advancement, said Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation’s gift raises UTRGV’s private fundraising total to more than $50 million since the university opened its doors Aug. 31, 2015.

“This is another example of the giving spirit in the Valley,” Cronin said. “We’re fortunate to live in a region where people value the importance of higher education and truly understand how supporting a first-class institution like UTRGV can benefit the entire region.”

Editor’s Note: Reporter Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., contributed to this story from Harlingen, Texas.